Voodoo. 2017. Directed & Written by Tom Costabile.
Starring Samantha Stewart, Ruth Reynolds, Dominic Matteucci, Daniel Kozul, Ron Jeremy, Alec Justin Henderson, Lavelle Roby, & Richard Kray.
Not Rated. 83 minutes.
Found footage will always get a chance at Father Son Holy Gore. Because when done right there’s so much potential, both to be a compelling film and also scary. On the other side of that is that, when done wrong a found footage horror can truly be abysmal. Just utter shit. What’s frustrating about the whole sub-genre is when a movie’s got that potential, then instead of capitalising wastes every bit of its energy.
Tom Costabile’s Voodoo has a lot going on, but that’s the problem: none of it ever really plays out in full, or at least to the extent the viewer might hope. There’s a great sense of white people dabbling in things they do not understand, playing around with the traditions of other cultures, leading to a brutal reckoning. As the plot unreels and the main character, relatively wholesome Dani (Samantha Stewart) from New Orleans, falls farther into the clutches of a terrifying evil, the more interesting pieces of the story give way to something more like a frightening roller coaster ride than anything intellectually engaging.
Costabile does a fantastic job with the literal descent to hell, there’s no doubt about it. But Voodoo could’ve been more effective by dealing closely with the plot, rather than becoming a whirlwind of hellish set design, wild sounds, and a truly unnecessary bit of nastiness nearing the end. The story of a young woman, tricked by a married man and cursed by the practising voodoo wife, it’s SO ENGAGING! This is why it’s frustrating to watch Costabile not use the premise to do something better.
While the opening sequence does fit with the film, story-wise, it’s just a weird start. Especially considering the fact this is meant as a found footage film, and within the first 5 minutes or so there’s a mix of footage. Usually, I try not to lean too hard on one of these flicks for those types of things. But the first few scenes feel out of place where they are, maybe if they appeared later on once we know more about Dani and her situation it’d feel appropriate.
Second big faux-pas: confusing Satanism and voodoo. Big fucking no-no! They’re simply not the same things. Particularly seeing as how voodoo is a cultural practice, whereas Satanism is merely a religion of the self adopted by people of all cultures. Seeing the pentagram thrown in there’s odd, it has no connection to voodoo in its traditional sense. If the angle of white people messing around in other cultures was played out better, this inclusion of the pentagram would feel right at home; suggesting Dani’s cousin Stacy (Ruth Reynolds) doesn’t understand voodoo enough to know the pentagram isn’t related. It isn’t played out well, though. And things like this wind up looking bad.
Moreover, there’s a whole bit about Dani having an abortion which never actually goes anywhere. It has legs, definitely. If Costabile concentrated more on the story than providing an effects-laden second half, his movie could’ve explored much more territory.
All that being said, the best part of the movie comes when Dani wakes to find her cousin’s house has transformed into the gateway to hell itself, Stacy herself a raging, murderous demon. From there, she heads down into hell where demons torturing souls line the corridors, each one worse than the last. The film is divided in a perfect half, so that after the initial 40 minutes the final 40 takes the viewer on a creepy ride. All beginning in a sort of surreal moment, gripping the viewer as Dani grapples to understand what’s going on around her.
A great element, as previously mentioned, is how white people fuck around with things they don’t understand in other cultures. Here, we have the voodoo culture, traditionally practised by Africans/African-Americans. The cousin’s been dabbling in it, and wrongly with the pentagram fascination. Dani even stashes some beads under Stacy’s pillow, playing around where she doesn’t belong. We see the disrespect of the culture, their lack of seriousness in contemplating the consequences, which lays the groundwork for the later, horrifying trip to hell.
The best part, hands down, is the sound design courtesy of Frank Serafine; in the past, Serafine has worked on sound design elements for Space Mountain and other theme park experiences, as well as worked in the sound department on such films as: The Fog, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Poltergeist II: The Other Side, Manhunter, Pumpkinhead, and more. He’s helped create a unique and scary journey with Costabile. The sound alone is enough to raise a few hairs, from the demonic voices to the screaming torment of those trapped in that place, it’s a melting pot of sonic madness.
Sadly, despite Serafine’s amazing contribution, the very end undoes whatever good will Costabile built up with the wild trip Dani takes into the flames of hell. Without spoiling, there’s a totally unnecessary moment of sexual assault that does nothing for the plot. Takes away so much of the genuine terror which preceded it. There was a great moment not long before with a lecherous uncle whom Dani believed dead, her mother; this could’ve led to better representations of hell than what comes out in the wash. Again, so much potential wasted, these are brief pieces basically like offal left on the slaughterhouse floor.
I really wanted this to be better. It has a bunch of expertly creepy elements, I expected more at times when the better bits shined. Unfortunately, Voodoo suffers from some bad acting, plus poorly delivered dialogue and flat emotions. The wasted energy and plot elements would’ve given more life to the whole film. Additionally, the needlessly nasty sexual horror in the finale is off-putting. Dani’s descent to hell makes you forget some of its imperfections, then Costabile hammers a bad nail home with this gross finish.
Take away the ill-advised assault, the bad dialogue, Voodoo would end up more than just a ★1/2 start horror. There’s an outrageous quality to the finale that works up until those last moments. You can get lost in the insanity, the crawling dread as we anticipate nothing at all good to come in the final fleeting minutes. But, as many lazy horror flicks do, this one takes the rotten route opting for mindless misogynist horror instead of finding a better, more unique way out.
I wouldn’t exactly recommend Voodoo. More a ‘you have to see it for yourself’-type of watch. You’ll at least be thrilled for 15-20 minutes during the second half. Just don’t get your hopes up, certainly not if you want a solid found footage movie; in that case, your time’s better spent elsewhere.